Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Let's get these killers and their thrillers matched up right: the murderous baddy in Nightmare on Elm Street was Freddy; in Friday 13th it was Jason; the guy with the buzzing blades in Texas Chainsaw Massacre was Leatherface, and in Halloween it was ...
Yes, when it comes to evil-doers the name "Michael Myers" hardly creates a flutter, really. Wasn't he Austin Powers too?
Yet in the annals of scary date-movies the first Halloween from '78 -- when Michael Myers escapes the mental institution and comes after a very young Jamie Lee Curtis as the scream-queen -- is a notable entry which spawned any number of masked marauders, Jason and Freddy among them.
Written and directed by John Carpenter -- who also wrote the spooky music -- Halloween had an elemental simplicity which stands up even today: ominous camera movements which adopt the viewpoint of the murdering Michael; shadows and shafts of light in and out of which Michael slips; very little blood but a real sense of increasing tension; false endings and classic lines ("You can't kill the boogie man"); and some natty references to Psycho.
Curtis as the virginal and bookish Laurie Strode is the daughter of Janet Leigh, who was slashed in the shower, and the psychiatrist here is Sam Loomis, the name of a character in that Hitchcock classic. That he is played by the unpleasant Donald Pleasence adds another disconcerting element. Pleasence usually appears as a spooky character (see Polanski's Cul-de-Sac) so here even the good guy is a little off-kilter.
Of course the plot has more holes than Michael's victims. How did he know how to drive after being locked up for 15 years for slashing at his sister on Halloween night? Where did he get the clothes and mask?
But Halloween even now still manages to have internal tension and some thoroughly scary scenes.
By keeping Myers as a murdering automaton whose motivation is murky, we of the post-Terminator generations recognise him as the guy who is never going to be out for the count. Sure enough, when he disappears at the end -- six bullets in him and having fallen two storeys on to the lawn -- we know Michael (like Rasputin, Arnie, Carrie et al) will be back.
The DVD box set of the first five Halloween movies -- the franchise is up to No 8, Halloween: Resurrection with Curtis back, Busta Rhymes and the premise of a reality television show in Michael's old house -- shows how imaginative subsequent directors have been in keeping Michael alive and killing.
Halloween 2 picks up the closing moments of the first film before setting Michael off in pursuit of Laurie, who is in hospital recovering. But director Rick Rosenthal moves away from the Hitchcock-like tension of the original and embarks on a blood-letting, slasher frenzy flick with a much higher body-count.
Haddonfield continues to be a town with an unnaturally small number of adults and a high count of hormonal teens, hereafter known as "victims". We also learn why Michael -- aka The Shape -- is so set on killing Laurie. It gives nothing away to say that despite taking six body shots then being in an explosion with Dr Loomis, he will be back. Remember, you can't kill the boogie man.
But for Halloween 3: Season of the Witch none of the original cast were (except for a scene where they appear as a movie on television).
This is the most bizarre film in any sequel series, having wandered in with only the most tenuous of Halloween connections. It's something about an evil toy-maker who makes Halloween masks which will kill all the kids wearing them on Halloween night.
In its own way it's weird fun -- sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a quirky plot from an early Avengers -- but it hardly warrants being part of the series. No, what we want is Michael and we want that ne'er-do-well back. Now!
And so Halloween 4 doesn't mess about. The subtitle is The Return of Michael Myers and he's not only survived that gunfire and conflagration (as has Dr Loomis) but he's madder than ever.
Yes, it's business as unusual. But you'd think they'd have known not to transfer him to another hospital with no armed escort. It starts like The Fugitive with Pleasence in a loopy, obsessive Tommy Lee Jones role. This particular sequel has a lot going for it: more hormonal teen victims; a whiskey-sodden preacher; rivers of blood.
It's drawn-out, but at the end Michael again goes down in a hail of rifle-fire, dispatched to "Hell, buried, where he belongs".
Which leads you into Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers . . .
(You'd think the good folk of Haddonfield would have cancelled Halloween by now.)
It's all dumb fun but raises interesting questions. Was Michael's bland, expressionless face mask based on Andy Warhol? Why can't people running after Michael, who walks slowly, ever catch up with him?
And why are the people so surprised when Michael appears? Aren't they listening to the soundtrack?